CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Legal experts are taking a deep dive into identifying racial and equity disparities in the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office across Charleston County. Solicitor Scarlett Wilson says the study is an effort to be more transparent with the public.
Wilson’s office says the report – called Disparity and Prosecution in Charleston, SC – is the first of its kind in South Carolina and analyzed more than 24,000 criminal charges from 2015-2020.
The two outside agencies were brought in to look at disparity and prosecution in the county, how cases are handled and the there areas where improvements need to be made. Solicitor Wilson says it’s an important review of her office’s work and believes her office can only improve from the results.
The Justice Innovation Lab reviewed arrests and prosecutions of white and black men over a five-year period to identify racial and equity disparities.
“We think the data will show you that we are fair on individual cases and that we are treating similarly situated people, similarly,” says Solicitor Wilson.
In Charleston County, black men were five times more likely to be arrested. Data shows once the case reached the solicitor’s office there was much less racial disparity.
“We know we are well intentioned, we know we are well meaning but we also know that our system can have impacts that even we don’t intend and if we don’t get the big, broad overall picture – we’ll miss it,” says Solicitor Wilson.
Nearly equal percentages of black and white men had cases dismissed in Charleston County and sentencing rates were almost identical but with a higher number of black men being arrested. Solicitor Wilson says it’s an effort to make improvements while being transparent.
“We as the prosecutors are not going to be able to fix the whole justice system but we can fix our corner and that’s what we’re working on,” says Solicitor Wilson. “Fixing our corner of the justice system to do what we can to see that it’s better.”
The three organizations are continuing to review data while performing racial disparity training. Solicitor Wilson says her office will continue to work with partnering agencies while looking to address the differences.
“What that looks like in the end, I don’t know,” says Solicitor Wilson. “This is the beginning of a long journey and we’re in it for the long haul.”
Solicitor Wilson says additional studies will be conducted in the coming months, diving deeper and looking at all arrests across both Charleston and Berkeley counties.
Wednesday’s report is the first in a series outlining the impact of prosecutorial decisions compiled through extensive data collection and analysis which shows how differences in arrests impact case resolutions.
Researchers from Justice Innovation Lab and Loyola at Chicago joined Solicitor Wilson to discuss the first report Wednesday afternoon.